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Voice actors warn artificial intelligence could replace them, cut industry jobs and pay


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Actors are sounding the alarm on new artificial intelligence (AI) technology that creates replicas of their voices and could replace them without proper compensation.

According to a report by VICE's Motherboard, Hollywood and videogame voice actors are being asked to sign contracts that give away the rights to their voices for use in generative AI. They claim that the increasingly common practice could decimate entire aspects of the industry.

"It's disrespectful to the craft to suggest that generating a performance is equivalent to a real human being's performance," SungWon Cho, a game and animation voice actor, told Motherboard.

"Sure, you can get it to sound tonally like a voice and maybe even make it sound like it's capturing an emotion, but at the end of the day, it is still going to ring hollow and false. Going down this road runs the risk of people thinking that voice-over can be replaced entirely by AI, which really makes my stomach turn."

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Videogame voice actor Fryda Wolff, known for the famous online shooter Apex Legends, said that the new technology could allow game developers, animation studios and commercial clients to squeeze more performances out of her without compensating her or informing her representative.

Many companies now offer ways to clone or synthesize a person's voice using AI. They typically work by having users record their voices using a script. Once a certain amount of audio is recorded, a replica of the user's voice is created. The longer the recording, the more accurate the voice. Afterward, users can type in anything they wish into a text box that will spit out the words in the user's voice.

Other companies allow users to upload previously recorded audio, posing concerns about consent when plugging in the voice of a friend, coworker, celebrity, or even politician.

The co-founder of one such company, ElevenLabs, anticipates a future where AI companies can partner with voice actors.

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"Voice actors will no longer be limited by the number of recording sessions they can attend and instead, they will be able to license their voices for use in any number of projects simultaneously, securing additional revenue and royalty streams," Mati Staniszewski said.

In response to ElevenLabs' statement, Wolff said actors do not want the ability to license additional revenue streams, calling it "nonsense jargon" that shows the company has no idea how voice actors make their living.

The President and Founder of the National Association of Voice Actors (NAVA), Tim Friedlander, said that clauses in contracts that give away an actor's voice rights are becoming "very prevalent," with language that is often "confusing and ambiguous."

"Many voice actors may have signed a contract without realizing language like this had been added. We are also finding clauses in contracts for non-synthetic voice jobs that give away the rights to use an actor's voice for synthetic voice training or creation without any additional compensation or approval. Some actors are being told they cannot be hired without agreeing to these clauses," he said.

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He also noted that his union is not "anti-synthetic voices or anti-AI" but simply "pro voice actor."

He added that some sections of the voice acting industry would disappear because of generative AI, "especially the blue-collar, working-class voice actor who works a day job 9-5 and then is trying to build a voice-over career from there. Those jobs are what will be lost to synthetic voices first and will damage a large part of the industry."

Actors' union SAG-AFTRA, speaking with Motherboard, said that voice synthesis is a mandatory subject of bargaining.

"Any language in a performer's contract which attempts to acquire digital simulation or digital creation rights is void and unenforceable until the terms have been negotiated with the union," they said. 

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